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Daily Howler: As usual, John O'Neill dissembled. Matthews, reinvented, played along
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MATTHEWS REINVENTED! As usual, John O’Neill dissembled. Matthews, reinvented, played along: // link // print //

FAKE FACT ON HOLD: Amazing! As near as we can tell from the transcripts, no one on MSNBC pushed the “fake fact” about Ben Barnes and the Guard last night! As far as we can tell, no one on MSNBC even mentioned Barnes’ name last night. (For background, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/23/04.)

And so, at least temporarily, a new fake fact died. For the past two weeks, three big MSNBC honchos had pushed this “fact” about Bush and the Guard. And even as we discussed the fake fact—even as readers e-mailed the network—they just kept lying in your faces. Over at Media Matters, David Brock got on the fake fact too—and the fact went away, at least for one night. For ourselves, we’ll be shocked if this fake fact stays dead. For one night, it went into storage.

Our current series—Smear Boat veterans!

IT’S THE SMEAR BOAT: Enjoy each part of our endless report! For parts 1-4, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/17/04. For parts 5-6, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/23/04. And today, enjoy a mordant Part 7. You won’t read this in the New York Times, where they link to keep their dainty hands clean by skimming across a flat surface:

PART 7—THE SWIFTIES WHO DIDN’T BARK: Let’s start by making an obvious point—the Swift Boat Veterans have every right to express their views about Kerry. White House elections belong to American citizens. Citizens have the right to state their views. They have every right to do so quite forcefully.

But the public has some rights here, too. If a gang of crackpots enters the discourse, making fake claims against a candidate, doesn’t the public have the right to be told about their conduct? Isn’t it news if a number-one best-selling book is full of strange claims and blatant misstatements—nasty slanders of a candidate, claims that are blatantly false? If the best-selling authors are obvious frauds, doesn’t the public have a right to know that? Isn’t it news if O’Neill and Corsi are making nasty, fake claims about Kerry?

You might have thought such a thing would be news, but to your mainstream “press corps,” it isn’t. To all appearances, the dainty people who make up your press corps don’t like to get their hands dirty. At best, they’ll do what Nicholas Kristof did last weekend (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/22/04); they’ll throw off superficial critiques—critiques which make a hash of the simplest facts—and then they’ll wash their hands of the whole dirty business, telling you in a subsequent column that Republicans should police these rough people themselves! Is John O’Neill a consummate kook? Is his book full of fraudulent claims? You won’t find out in the mainstream press! To all appearances, your mainstream “press” is simply too scared or indifferent or lazy to ask.

How kooky is the O’Neill/Corsi book? In it, we’re told that the KGB started the antiwar movement, and that Kerry never cast a vote in the Senate “that the Communists would not favor.” As a senator, Kerry was working “on behalf of the enemy” when he went to Vietnam in 1993 to work on POW/MIA issues. And of course, we're told that Kerry “killed a small child” even though he plainly didn’t do so; indeed, we’re told that he committed an “atrocity” in the incident! (In this same incident, we’re told that Kerry wrote a fake report although he didn’t write it.) In the Bronze Star event, we’re told that Kerry “fled” the scene even though O’Neill and Corsi’s own witness, Larry Thurlow, says that Kerry didn’t flee. Similarly, we’re told that Kerry didn’t deserve his Silver Star even though their own witness, Larry Lee, says he did deserve it. (O’Neill and Corsi’s account of this incident contradicts Lee’s published account.) And trust us—we have only begun to relate the faking that drives this inexcusable book. Do the American people deserve to be told? Do they deserve to know that O’Neill and Corsi savage Kerry for killing a child when their own account makes it clear that he didn’t? Does the public deserve to be informed? If they do, the information isn’t going to come from their slumbering and disabled “press corps.”

Indeed, how nasty and fake is Unfit for Command? The claim that Kerry committed an “atrocity” when he “killed a small child” is about as nasty as fake charges get. But for those who would better understand this fake book, we have to go a bit further with this general line of attack. In Unfit for Command, O’Neill and Corsi persistently savage Kerry as a reckless war criminal. But there’s an obvious problem with their attacks—a problem your press corps won’t challenge.

How vile a man was Lieutenant Kerry, who fled a scene he didn’t flee, filed a report he didn’t file and killed a child he didn’t kill? This vile—the authors devote their entire Chapter 4 to the gentleman’s “war crimes.” Indeed, that’s the title of the chapter. When you thumb to page 51, it stares you in the face. They use caps:

And no, these aren’t the war crimes Kerry discussed when he testified to the Senate in 1971. These are the “war crimes” Kerry committed—if you put your faith in John O’Neill and Jerome Corsi.

Yes, this is the chapter in which Kerry is savaged for killing the child he didn’t kill. But that is only one small part of the gentleman’s appalling misconduct. How awful was Kerry in Vietnam? The chapter opens with a quote from the authors’ favorite source, William Franke:

O’NEILL/CORSI (page 51):
“Kerry seemed to believe that there were no rules in a free-fire zone and you were supposed to kill everyone. I didn’t see it that way. I will tell you in all candor that the only baby killer I knew in Vietnam was John F. Kerry.”
Swift Boat Veteran, Coastal Division 11
Nasty, isn’t it? “Baby killer!” As readers may recall, O’Neill and Corsi tell us, later on, that Franke is “haunted” by his “vivid memory” of the incident in which that child was killed. But was Franke even present at the event? O’Neill and Corsi make no such claim. More on that question will follow.

So Franke tells us “in all candor” that Kerry was a “baby killer.” But don’t take this on the word of the haunted Franke. As they start their WAR CRIMES chapter, O’Neill and Corsi widen the critique. “In reality, Kerry was regarded by his military peers as reckless with human life,” they assert. On page 52, the claim is fleshed out; the authors say that they will describe incidents “reported to the authors by those who witnessed the ruthlessness of Kerry’s conduct toward the Vietnamese people.” Yikes! And they extend the portrait one paragraph later: “The evidence shows that John Kerry was a ruthless operator in the field with little regard for human life.” And then quickly, they move to the sampan incident—the incident in which Kerry “killed the small child,” even though they themselves says he didn’t.

By page 59, the authors are almost done with their nasty, self-contradictory account of this matter. But their generalized calumnies continue:

O’NEILL/CORSI (page 59): Numerous Coastal Division 11 Swiftees recall the Cua Lon River sampan debacle with true distaste for Kerry, remembering him as someone who lied and who pushed the envelope of accepted conduct. Many Swiftees believe that Kerry was reckless with human life when the lives in question were Vietnamese.
At this point, we get a half-page rumination from Franke (again) about proper conduct in boarding a sampan. But soon thereafter, Tom Wright, another Swift boat commander, furthers the portrait of Kerry. Wright is quoted giving “serious reflection to the way Kerry chose to interpret free-fire zones.” How bad was Kerry? According to Wright, “John Kerry thought that ‘free-fire’ meant ‘kill anyone you see.’” On page 62, George Bates also weighs in about Kerry’s CRIMES: “Bates, a retired Navy captain, believed that Kerry treated the South Vietnamese in an almost criminal manner.” At this point, the Swift Boat Vets are pouring it on. Except for that little word: “almost.”

We can’t help noting that useful word. No, this chapter isn’t called ALMOST WAR CRIMES, but Bates’ qualifier comes in handy as a reader considers what the Swift Vets have said. Indeed, an obvious question comes to mind as one reads this nasty chapter—the chapter in which Kerry is savaged for killing the child he didn’t kill. That obvious question would have to be this: If Kerry was committing all these WAR CRIMES; if he was “regarded as reckless with human life when the lives in question were Vietnamese;” if he engaged in “ruthless conduct toward the Vietnamese people;” if he “showed little regard for human life” and “killed anyone he could see”—why then did none of these candid men ever file a complaint about Kerry? How did this guy get away with it? Indeed, the book’s crackpot quality comes through once again as its authors juxtapose nasty accounts of Kerry’s WAR CRIMES with pious accounts in which Swift Boat Vets insist that they’d never put up with such conduct. As all readers surely know, when Kerry testified to the Senate in 1971, he described the way some Vietnam veterans had reported their own misconduct—their own war crimes—at the “Winter Soldier” event in Detroit. From that day to this, author O’Neill has boo-hoo-hooed hard, pretending that Kerry somehow said that he and his colleagues committed such crimes (more on this topic in a future report). In O’Neill’s book, as Swifties savage Kerry for this slander—the slander which he didn’t commit—they insist that atrocities and other war crimes weren’t tolerated within their own units. We have no reason to doubt this claim; indeed, we assume that the claim is made in good faith. But we found ourselves forced to emit mordant chuckles as these men—candid to a fault—tell us what they would have done if someone in their unit had dared to engage in such conduct.

Throughout the book, Swift Boat Vets say that such conduct simply would not have been tolerated. Indeed, right at the start of Chapter 1, O’Neill describes, in some detail, the way the men of the Swift boat units tried to avoid civilian casualties (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/8/04). We have no reason to doubt this account—and we have no reason to challenge O’Neill’s pride when he explains, a bit later on, why Kerry told Dick Cavett in 1971 that he hadn’t witnessed any “personal atrocities” within the Swift boat units. “The reason that he could not describe any atrocities was because there were no atrocities,” O’Neill states. Indeed, it is quite clear from reading this book that the Swift Boat Vets would accept no such conduct. At one point, George Elliott, a major honcho, is quoted on the subject:

O’NEILL/CORSI (page 119):
I served with these guys. I went on missions with them, and these men served honorably. Up and down the chain of command, there was no acquiescence to atrocities. It was not condoned; it did not happen, and it was not reported to me verbally or in writing by any of these men including Lieutenant (jg) Kerry.
Captain George Elliott, USN (retired)
On the same page, Swift Boat Veteran William Shumadine makes a somewhat similar statement:
O’NEILL/CORSI (page 119):
I was in An Thoi from June of 68 to June of 69, covering the whole period that John Kerry was there. I operated in every river, in every canal, and every off-shore patrol area in the 4 th Corps area, from Cambodia all the way around the Bo De River. I never saw, even heard of all these atrocities and things that we were supposed to have done.

This is not true. We’re not standing for it. We want to set the record straight.
William Shumadine

It seems fairly clear that the Swift Boat Vets wouldn’t tolerate criminal conduct. Indeed, on page 155, O’Neill and Corsi drive the point home as they engage in a bit of their trademark cracked logic. The authors’ “reasoning” in this passage is so odd that it would take several pages to explain. But, to make a long story short, the pair scold Kerry for failing to report the war crimes he always said he didn’t witness:
O’NEILL/CORSI (page 155): There is no statute of limitations on murder. If Kerry witnessed war crimes, then he had a responsibility at that time to bring the matter forward to authorities so the offense could be investigated and the responsible parties investigated. If Kerry did not come forward in either instance, he was guilty of covering up potentially criminal offenses.
Kerry had a responsibility to report misconduct, the pair insist.

And that’s where that little word “almost” comes in. It’s perfectly clear that the Swift Boat Vets didn’t tolerate criminal conduct. The question, therefore, leaps off the page—if Kerry engaged in so many WAR CRIMES, why did none of these principled men ever report his misconduct? If Kerry “killed anyone he could see;” if he was “reckless with human life;” if he engaged in “ruthless conduct toward the Vietnamese people;” if he “showed little regard for human life”—then why did none of these candid men ever report this to their superiors? As Elliott states, “there was no acquiescence to atrocities. It was not condoned.” Why, then, didn’t the candid Franke tell his superiors about Kerry’s conduct? Why didn’t these Swifties step forward to haul down the man who was “killing anyone he could see?”

The obvious answer suggests itself, especially in a book which would savage its subject for killing a child he didn’t kill. And that’s where the little word “almost” comes in. According to the dainty Bates, “Kerry treated the South Vietnamese in an almost criminal manner.” Phew! Thank God for that helpful word “almost!” After all, if Kerry’s conduct had really been “criminal,” Bates would be “guilty of covering up potentially criminal offenses” if he hadn’t reported the conduct. And plainly, Bates said nothing at the time. Neither did any of these loud-mouthed men whose pious words appear in a chapter which is called, quite simply, WAR CRIMES. Thank God Kerry’s conduct was only “almost” criminal! Why, if Kerry had engaged in “criminal” conduct, then by O’Neill and Corsi’s own statements, these silent men would be convicts themselves.

But let’s put aside this dainty distinction and gaze on the matter as it exists. Kerry engaged in ruthless conduct, we’re told—but none of these self-impressed men ever said so in real time, when they “had a responsibility to bring the matter forward.” Instead, they bravely say it now, in a book in which Kerry also manages to flee a scene he didn’t flee, file a report he didn’t file, kill a child he didn’t kill and commit an atrocity he didn’t even witness. In the kooky world of O’Neill and Corsi, any vile thing can be shouted, of course. So never mind the obvious question: If Kerry behaved in the manner described, why did no one ever report it? In a book as fake and kooky as this, such obvious questions needn’t be asked. And in case it is asked, George Bates salutes and offers a Clintonian distinction.

Why wasn’t Kerry’s vile conduct reported? The obvious answer suggests itself—because the conduct didn’t exist! By the way—was William Franke even present at the event which haunts him, which he remembers so vividly? In a book as kooky as this, it may be that you don’t have to be present to have such vivid and haunting memories. Did Franke observe his “baby killer?” O’Neill and Corsi make no such claim. More on Herr Franke to follow.

MONDAY: When it comes to Kerry’s journal entries, O’Neill and Corsi have a weird explanation.

TOMORROW—SECOND IN AN OCCASIONAL SERIES: Four years ago, this was a Week That Was. Dan Rather should have it this easy.

MATTHEWS REINVENTED: If you want to ponder the fake, phony process which we describe as “cable news,” read the transcript of O’Neill’s appearance on last evening’s Hardball. From start to finish, Chris Matthews delivered wet, warm kisses to the author he challenged just a few weeks ago. Here’s how the host signed off:

MATTHEWS (9/23/04): Well, it's great having you on. Congratulations, John O'Neill! We may disagree, but all in good civility.

O'NEILL: Thank you.

“We may disagree?” That must have been a surprise to most viewers. On what do Matthews and O’Neill “disagree?” Whatever the disagreement is, the moist-mouthed host, lobbing softballs, kept it under wraps all night long.

By the way, does John O’Neill ever stop dissembling? “You have an amazing pulpit now, sir,” Matthews blathered at one point. “Can you summarize, based upon your firsthand experience, and those of your fellows, with John Kerry, what the voters should know from that experience?” When O’Neill answered, he slimed Kerry good—and as always, he baldly dissembled:

O'NEILL (9/23/004): Based on my investigation, and, much less importance, John Kerry exaggerated his role in Vietnam. Much more important, and firsthand experience, when John Kerry came back, it wasn't clear who he was for any more...

MATTHEWS: Do you think he believed that the North Vietnamese and the V.C. were the good guys and we were the bad guys? Did he go that far?

O'NEILL: He really did. That's the sad thing, Chris. When you read his speech where he says Ho Chi Minh is like George Washington and he wants to impose a constitution that will be like our Constitution, that's a speech he gave that's in the book. That's what he actually said. I don't know how he could believe that. We saw them, Chris. They were killing people.

As usual, Kerry was a traitor. Matthews wet-kissed the slander along, helping O’Neill frame his language.

But does John O’Neill ever tell the truth? That speech by Kerry is not in his book, nor has O’Neill ever read it. All O’Neill has is a 30-word report by an unnamed FBI informer—a type of report which is highly unreliable. In the May 23 Los Angeles Times, for example, historian Gerald Nicosia described other such reports on the VVAW:

NICOSIA (5/23/04): Curiously, those two undercover reports don't jibe...with newspaper accounts also saved by the FBI. They indicate the conference was well organized, and that Kerry was well-received. Lemmer, who was exposed two years later as the principal agent provocateur at the trial of the Gainesville Eight (eight VVAW members indicted for conspiracy), was often known to invent reports of VVAW's violent intentions, and his reports were later found quite unreliable.
According to Nicosia, Bill Lemmer was a “paid (FBI) informer from Arkansas, a crazy, violence-prone, washed-out Green Beret vet.”

All O’Neill has is a brief report. He doesn’t know if it is accurate. There is no other record of such speeches by Kerry. But so what? O’Neill almost never tells the truth. So last night, he said that he had read Kerry’s speech, and he said the speech is in his book. And oh yes—the speech is “sad;” it shows that Kerry thought we were the bad guys. Matthews, reinvented, played right along. That’s how you build ratings on cable.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Last month, Matthews played rough with O’Neill and with Kerry-accuser Larry Thurlow. Too bad Chris didn’t know any facts! To see the old Matthews try to batter Thurlow, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/20/04 and 8/26/04.